sometimes you need puppets

Bow hold.

Two words every string player hates to hear, yet knows is coming.

HandmpuppetThe fact that a cello bow hold is meant to be natural yet due to our bodies feeling insecure, worried that we will drop this delicate (and expensive) bow we overcompensate. We add weird angles. And unhealthy tension.

Enter: hand puppets.

By drawing two simple dots by the 1st finger’s base knuckle and making a fist (with the thumb loosely inside) we now have a fun new partner that encourages us to open up our bow hold, add flexibility to all parts of the hand, and naturally lift the base knuckles which can be in danger of caving and causing the dreaded steak knife bow hold.

I assign students homework of having puppet conversations with their practice parent. Usually they love this, but if for some reason they feel too silly I will ask them questions that require one word answers or even begin by having the puppet blow air kisses.

When I thought about trying this technique I thought it would be good for thumb position only, but the more I use it the more benefits it gives ALL of my student’s bow holds, even advance students have improved their flexibility with their little buddy.

Have you heard of any other funny little games to play with students to work on the dreaded bow hold?


make it larger than life

WallostringsI have been trying to write this post for a long time, but it is such an odd thing to explain. But I’m tired of putting it off, so here it is: the explanation of my cello wall art installation.

Many people have complained that it is hard to remember where to put our fingers on stringed instruments and have compared a cello as harder to play than guitar because there are no frets to help them out (a fair enough discussion: guitarists are cheaters-go!) As we know everyone learns differently, then it makes sense that  just talking about how the spacing of our fingers works is not usually enough for a student to grasp the concept. So I thought, lets give them a real life version they can interact with off of their cellos! And then I thought, WAIT – let’s make it larger than life for a bigger impact! And thus the giant cello strings on my wall were born.

Surely we can agree that it is lovely to look at and entertainingly confusing when people say “you are missing a line on your staff!” but it is also functional when discussing fingergboard geography and showing when in 1st position our 2nd and 3rd fingers are not glued together as some initially pretend. Students can actually show me what they know and think about our playing in a new light.


To make this wall for your own string studio you need:

  • 4 different sizes of ribbon to represent the varying string sizes
  • mounting tack (typically used for hanging posters)
  • washi tape
  • card-stock paper


RibbonStep 1: Enlist a friend to help you cut the ribbon to the desired length and secure the ribbon to the wall with the mounting tack (four eyeballs are better than two when it comes to spacing.) I spaced my thinnest string on the right to represent my A string to allow students to see this in the same way they view me when I am modeling a passage for them.

Step 2: Once you have both ends of the four ribbons placed, I used washi tape to represent where the nut of the cello is. I spaced it almost halfway on the strings as I have a lot of little tiny cellists that can’t reach very high.

Step 3: Cut out 10 circles on card-stock to represent fingers and positions. I have a set for the A string and D string that have finger numbers on one side and letter numbers on the other, allowing for a circle to represent open strings. I did make a little pocket that I taped to the wall as well to keep the extras in when I don’t need them.

Have you seen any other interactive art installations used for educational purposes?  Wall art

adventures in teaching vol. 1

One of my favorite things about teaching at the Omaha Conservatory of Music is getting to be a part of the music and teaching community. And sharing our wonderful stories about our adventures in teaching and interaction with students, of course!

This week is no exception. Some of my favorite moments included introducing the Sparkle Wand for a pre-twinkler to practice their bow hold on, having a book 2 student play their piece backwards from memory, and then there was Ninja Bowing.

Ninja bowingPre-twinkler I will affectionately name little Jay is learning to play on two strings now. To remind him in our current song that he must prepare the bow and change strings before playing I added my ninja friend to the tip of our bow. To practice these bow changes we had to give the ninja elevator rides up and down from each string. As his 1/10th sized cello bow is tiny, if he did it correctly the ninja would actually fly off the tip of the bow for an even more dramatic effect.

Ninjas are awesome.

reimagining items

I have a new (and unusual) list of items I need to secure for my cello studio:

Finger puppets20140705-200258-72178425.jpg
Paint swatches
Double sided tape
Binder clips
Hackey sacks
Play dough
Measuring tape
Rubber bounces balls


Are there any unconventional items you have seen used for music teaching?